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The model of corporate sustainability is built from the three environmental, social and governance pillars, commonly referred to as ESG. While the environmental and governance pillars are often the stuff of headlines, social sustainability matters just as much, as it directly concerns human lives.
Social sustainability is about identifying and managing business impacts on people, according to the United Nations. In order to do so, companies must employ fair labor practices. This could mean any number of things, including providing a fair and liveable wage, eliminating harassment in the workplace, and eradicating forced and child labor.
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In February, Lubes’n’Greases published a news item in Lube Report Asia that the United States Customs and Border Protection agency had announced a ban on palm oil produced in Malaysia by Sime Darby Plantation Bhd. The reason for the ban was related to suspicions that the company was producing its products using forced and child labor. Palm oil has a variety of applications, including as a component of bio-based lubricants.
Liberty Shared, a Hong Kong-based nonprofit organization that works to halt human trafficking and forced labor, interviewed Sime Darby workers who described practices such as abusive working conditions, withholding of wages, coercion, deception and threats of sexual harassment.
Sime Darby hired professional services firm PWC to audit its performance in treating workers fairly and not engaging in forced labor.
Thirteen months after the U.S. began its investigation of Sime Darby’s labor practices, Customs and Border Control ordered the country’s ports to seize shipments of the company’s palm oil and palm oil derivatives. In January 2022, the agency said that it found evidence of all 11 indicators of forced labor as defined by the International Labour Organization on Sime Darby’s plantations. These indicators include employers abusing worker vulnerability; employers deceiving workers; employers restricting worker movement; physical or sexual violence against workers; debt bondage; abusive working and living conditions; and excessive overtime.
Sime Darby said that the agency’s conclusion and subsequent actions were “hugely disappointing.”
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